Su Lum: Slumming
December 16, 2009
All cruise lines offer a number of side trips at their ports of call, ranging from nature walks to helicopter rides to groups of people hanging onto each other while trying to fight their way up a mountain of rocks in a raging river (that was in Jamaica, second cruise – I watched).
My experience with these organized activities is that they involve a lot of waiting around in extreme heat, long bus rides to get to the place where you start your adventure and, finally, long rides back to the ship.
My friend Hilary, more than 30 years younger than I, was more enthused about side trips, poring over the cruise literature and then looking on the Internet, making plans for the four stops the Holland America Eurodam ship would make on our six-day trip.
After a day “at sea,” our first stop was Grand Turk, a small island devastated by a hurricane last year, where we were docked for eight hours. Hilary went off on her own, taking a cab to a snorkeling spot (she brought her own equipment), while I futzed around in the cabin, shampooed my humidity-curled hair, basked on our deck, tried to find something decent to wear among the wrinkled mess of what had been my freshly-ironed wardrobe which got smashed when we were tossing my baggage looking for my missing passport in a teeming rainstorm.
I took some money and my credit card out of the safe in our closet, closed its door but found that it wouldn’t lock. Hilary had had trouble with it earlier and had called for assistance (that time, we couldn’t get it open) – clearly there was something wrong with the safe, so I, knowing that Hilary wouldn’t be back until mid-afternoon, put its contents into a lock-drawer of the bedside table.
I boarded my rented scooter, scootered down to deck A to the ramp off the boat, explored the faux souvenir village (ubiquitous at every port to accommodate the lame and the halt – I am a halt, hence the scooter), spotted a taxi area and asked if anyone could give me a tour of the island.
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By then all the passengers had gone their separate ways and the area was empty (hard times – usually three or four ships are docked at the same port but at all four stops we were the only one). A local named Tony volunteered to give me a personal tour for $30, pointed to a place where I could park the scooter, I climbed into his van and we were off to see Grand Turk, 11 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.
Tony was originally from New York City but a resident of 30 years – his father was a citizen of Grand Turk (no taxes, no crime because everybody knows each other). He described the hurricane (“Every roof blew off”), pointed out the new schools and hospital (a little bit “yikes”). It was rather bleak and barren and the developers have sniffed the place out and condos and time-shares are springing up everywhere so I wasn’t tempted to move there, but I loved getting a tour from a local (“That’s my sister-in-law’s house … I live down that street”). An hour and a half later I climbed on my scooter, set the speed to Rabbit and rabbited back onto the ship.
On Deck A there are only a few elevators to go up, and it was crowded with passengers eager to get back to air conditioning and a late lunch on the Lido deck. Impaired by my driving abilities with the scooter, I missed several opportunities to squeeze into the elevator (you face one and BING, the one behind you arrives). Someone said, “We’ll make sure you get on the next one,” and a group formed a barricade with their bodies. Amid cries of “stand back, let her through,” I scootered onto the elevator only to hear, “SU, SU – get OFF! Get OFF!”
It was Hilary, in a panic. My saviors held the door of the elevator while I backed the scooter out into the crowd of passengers anxious to get up to the Lido deck, and it was only later that I got the story of the emergency that demanded I get off the elevator and give Hilary $20 quick, like NOW.
Turned out, Hilary had taken a taxi with a local lady driver to a snorkeling place a few miles away, which Tony had pointed out to me. It seemed in the middle of nowhere, but on cruise stops there is no dearth of souvenir-buying opportunities, no matter how remote. After snorkeling, Hilary had made a few purchases including a canvas painting, a dried, fragile, lacy piece of sea fauna and a conch shell of a size that could hold a couple of gallons of punch.
On returning to the taxi site she found the same driver, but when they were about to depart Hilary discovered that she had spent all of her cash. The taxi driver took pity and said she’d drive her back to the ship on credit. Hilary dashed through the faux village, down the long walkway to deck A, elevatored up to our room to get her money and found the safe – of course – empty.
Back down to deck A, she noticed a commotion on the Up elevator, figured it must (hmmm, ahem) involve me and screamed for me to get OFF so she could borrow enough money to pay off the driver.